I Love You, Mom

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My mother died last Tuesday night at home. It is the end of her life on earth and certainly the end of the most important relationship in my life. But it’s also a new beginning for me. Bear with me while I unburden myself.

Last September, I largely dropped off the Spark planet when my mother was diagnosed with extensive stage small cell lung cancer. This is one nasty cancer. It’s not curable and the average person diagnosed with this cancer lives 10 months from diagnosis. My brothers and I knew this, but my mom chose not to. She was also a very private person. As a result, I felt I needed to keep her “secret” to myself. I’m a person who tends to tell it like it is, so I tried to avoid talking about it rather than telling people things that were less than completely true. And I grieved. I knew that focusing on an uncertain future wasn’t productive, but it was impossible not to focus on what was almost certainly going to happen. My mom was going to die and she was going to die fairly soon. I feared for her, and I feared for me.

My mom has always been a huge presence in my life. She and my dad ran a farm and were always home when we were growing up. We worked together at the family business, they came to our sporting events, visited me at college and in the various places I lived after school. We traveled together, went to shows, museums, etc. My dad died in 1994, and six years ago I moved back to my hometown. I lived with my mom for two years while I built a house next to my mom’s on land she gave me. During those six years, my mom drove me to the train every day, cooked me meals each night, helped out with errands and chores, lent me things, attended events with me. In many ways, my mom was like a spouse to me. She was SO generous. With my mom at my side, I was never lonely.

Things weren’t always perfect, of course. There were times (many times, in fact) that my mom would drive me crazy. She could nag and criticize with the best of them. I often found her to be one-dimensional.

When my mom was diagnosed, what I felt more than anything was that I didn’t want her to feel alone or afraid. I attended as many of her medical appointments as possible. She didn’t have much interest in learning about her cancer or treatments, so that role fell to me. I researched the treatments and asked the questions of the doctors. I questioned whether we were pursuing treatments aggressively enough. I agonized over whether she should undergo preventative brain radiation (involving irradiating a healthy brain to prevent the spread of cancer to it). This allowed me to give back to my mom some small measure of what she gave me over the years. This process brought out the best in me, especially with regard to patience and compassion.

I also felt so privileged that my mom’s treatments went so well. She only felt nauseous one day in six months. We had an amazing Thanksgiving and Christmas. We went to Vegas together with a college friend of mine in January. I was hoping for a last vacation this spring—to the beach, where we all have such a great time with my brothers and their kids.

My mom turned 70 in March. I decided we should throw her a big birthday party. I knew it would likely be her last, and I wanted her to have the chance to see her closest friends before she died. We had it at her house on April 9, and it was spectacular. She was tired, but did great. It was especially poignant for my brothers and me because we learned on April 8 that the cancer in my mom’s liver was causing it to fail. For the past three weeks, she was totally exhausted. The doctor told us to expect worse and expect it quickly. We feared the end would come within the next couple of months and that it would be very tough.

The Monday after my mom’s party, she called me at 6 am saying she needed to go to the hospital. She was clearly in very bad shape. It was pneumonia, and it was quite bad. The doctors ultimately told us they couldn’t really do anything for her. We brought her home on the 15th and set her up in the living room where she could be in the center of things and have a view of the farm she worked so hard to make thrive. During this time, we were able to tell her how much she meant to us and how much we would miss her. As she slipped away over the next four days, I grieved more. IT WAS SO HARD. I was sleeping on an air mattress on the floor next to her bed when she died the night of April 19. I think she wanted to die when we weren’t hovering over her like we had been at other times near the end.

Over the last week, it has been SO amazing to hear what people felt about her. She was larger than life to so many. She was active in our community and passionate on so many matters, like art, knitting and supporting local agriculture. I think we understood that on some level, but not to the extent we’ve been hearing. It’s like looking at my mom from a totally different perspective.

It still doesn’t feel to me like she’s gone. I go to her house and it’s like she’s away for the weekend. I don’t know when it will truly hit or what it will feel like.

I’m going back to work on Monday. I’m going to reduce my schedule to three days per week so I can tend to myself and to the business of her estate. And my future will likely include some big changes. I will have the means to be less dependent on a “real job.” And my mom is the main reason I live where I do, so I may move on. I have a super tough time imaging living here without her. Moving on may involve moving in with my boyfriend, something I’ve never done before. He has been AMAZING through this last stretch. I will also be able to bump up my fitness activity again. I would really like to be super fit again, and I’ll be more free than ever to do so. Even when my mom was healthy I felt somewhat constrained due to the time we spent together. So I’m feeling a bit conflicted—at this time when I should be drowning in sadness, I’m feeling liberated. There’s a lot to think about in months to come.

I’ve missed you all in recent months. I hope you now have a better sense for why I’ve been gone. I look forward to reconnecting with you all as I begin this next phase of my life.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    My vision is blurred by tears and I'm here simply relishing the beauty of the telling and the connection. Your awareness of the contrast between the deep sense of loss and the liberating sense of freedom is so elegantly articulated. I had the same experience with the loss of my mom, who also died last.

    I bow to this exquisite tribute of a life well lived, and to you for sharing these poignant, joyful and intimate details out of the last several months of your life. It's such a pleasure to know you much better now, as you walked through the light and shadows with us.

    Blessed be,
    3702 days ago
    Hey there -- the first time I read this was was reduced to blithering tears and couldn't comment, but I wanted to come back. I love the photos of Jean, love the honesty in your blog and can totally relate to what you are going through. Feeling like you did everything you could, but somehow wishing you could have prevented what happened in the end... hearing stories of a parent that make you say "wait, I want to ask her all about that and now I can't"... feeling relief and sadness all mixed together in a jumbled ball of emotion.

    I am glad you are able to rearrange to take some time for you. Don't make any big decisions right now, just give yourself time to remember and work through the stages of grief -- I suspect that you will discover that it takes longer than you expected, and that's ok.

    Love and hugs to you and your family. And fond memories of Jean.

    3704 days ago
    Mal, what a beautifully written tribute to your mother. She would be so proud to read it, I'm sure. I love the pics of her...I can tell she is someone I would have loved to meet. What beautiful memories you have!

    I am so sorry for your did right by your mom, and you can be at peace with that.
    3704 days ago
    I can hardly imagine a better or more loving tribute.

    You were lucky to have her, and she was lucky to have you.

    And I bet the feeling that she's just away for the weekend -- we humans do that, yanno. And I think that's okay, sometimes. Not denial -- just a lingering echo, I suppose. Maybe it's just a really long weekend.
    3705 days ago
    Mal, your words brought tears to my eyes, as I could feel so strongly all the emotions and feelings you are having now, and during this whole process. Mothers are so special it is hard to put it all into words, but you did it beautifully. Being able to spend so much time with your mom these last few months was such a blessing for both of you. I am sure that your mom appreciated you going to her appointments and sleeping next to her bed and taking such good care of her. You are a loving and giving daughter, and I understand your conflicted feelings, but know that your mom would want to you get on with your life and not drown yourself in sadness. Getting focus back on health and fitness is never a bad thing,,,glad you will be back with the sisters! Sending big hugs,,,donna
    3705 days ago
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    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing. The conflicting feelings you have seem entirely normal to me. You did a wonderful job honoring and caring for your mom in a way that should give no regrets. Go on. Enjoy your life--she gave it to you in the first place and from your description of her, she enjoyed her life and wanted the same for you.

    Yup. It'll be hard and different, but you have every right to feel both loss and liberation. Life is always full of those contradictions, isn't it.

    Take care. I'm so glad you have a supportive family and love in your life.
    3705 days ago
    Mal, I'm so sorry for your loss. It sounds like your Mom was an amazing woman and great mom. I love the pictures of her. It sounds like you had a good, strong relationship and have many good memories to cherish. That is a beautiful thing.

    There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Take all the time you need to process your emotions. Some things may take you by surprise.

    Your Spark friends are here for you.

    Peace for you and your mom.

    3705 days ago
    Mal. THanks for sharing the beautiful blog about your mom. I love the pictures. They show her deep and quirky character. I used to live 7 hours away from mom, but now she lives in the house behind me. You've reminded me of how precious the time is with aging parents.

    I'm so happy to hear you are feeling liberated and thinking about your future. We should not have any regrets if we've done our best to help a parent achieve a good life and a good death, and it sounds like you did that in spades and that's why you are at peace.

    Take care. Big hug.
    3705 days ago
    Oh My God Mal what a beautiful--real-- blog. You have made me wish for a daughter just like you. The picts are just great. So full of life and character. And your loyalty and tender care are moving and so rare. Maybe you think not so rare in your family. But rare. Trust me. I am not surprised by the mixed feelings you describe. But I am surprised and very moved by your clarity. I think that is also rare. I too wish you peace and comfort. And I am so glad you plan to be back to Spark more often. I think it is great for healing. that is the amazing thing about fitness. It just plain feels better. Even in the most challenging times.
    3705 days ago
    I am so, so sorry for your loss. You will always have those wonderful memories of your time together. It sounds to me like you did everything you could to make the end of her life as comfortable and dignified as possible. Take the time you need to grieve, but then return to focusing on you, and doing what makes you happy. Your mom would want that.

    3705 days ago
    you story is touchable, my dad passed away last summer with colon cancer and it is not easy to loss beloved one, but this is the live.
    I am really sorry to hear this , just pray for her and remember her always.

    3705 days ago
    I am really sorry for your loss, everyone grieves in their own way, no way is the wrong way. Your way sounds like you put a lot of thought in how you feel about her and what she meant to you and everyone around her. She sounds like an amazing mom!!! I'm sure that this is your way of celebrating her life and the time you had to spent with her. Maybe in a special way your mom is by your side and knows that this is what you wanted, to be healthy, and she is giving you the strength to carry on!!! You sounds as though you are already grieving, You and your Mom will be in my thoughts!!!!!
    3705 days ago
    Your blog really touched my heart. I love your honesty. My mom started chemo last week for lymphoma. She is 83 and I fear this may be the beginning of the end. You have inspired me to make our time count. Unlike you, I live an hour and a half from her, so I am not able to spend a great deal of time with her. One of my brothers has stepped into that role, and I love him for it. I pray you find peace and comfort in the memories you shared.
    3705 days ago
    Good luck. I know how hard it is.
    3705 days ago
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